By Jennifer Eisenbart
Growing up in Illinois, Sherry Camp knew nothing of a regular home life.
With two parents that abused her amidst alcohol and drug abuse, Camp’s father promised her as a bride to the Klu Klux Klan. Her mother never said the words, “I love you,” and both parents fought constantly.
That horrendous start led Camp to a life of sexual exploitation, first as a youngster, then as a teenager and finally as an adult. It took her until the last decade, but she is finally free of the dark that her life began in and is now an ordained minister.
“I am the bride of Jesus Christ, not the KKK or Satan,” Camp said, speaking to those gathered at the Join the Movement Gala at The Riviera in downtown Lake Geneva Saturday night. “My name is Sherry, and I will continue to share my story for the rest of my life.”
Camp’s emotional, 30-minute speech – she set a timer for herself so she would have the motivation to stop – capped an evening of both fundraising and enjoyment with the serious message of what the organization hopes to stop, human trafficking.
In spite of the winter storm that had moved through a day earlier – it continued to snow throughout the event as temperatures dropped – all but five of the ticket holders for gala showed up.
JTM President and Founder Dawn Fiedler said Sunday she was thrilled with the turnout. Additionally, while a mystery theater event was held during dinner, it wrapped up in time for the focus to be on Camp.
“I had so many people just tell me, ‘she could’ve kept on talking,’” Fiedler said “I was so glad she was the focus of the evening.
“If we left every event with just sharing the darkness and not sharing that hope … we have to be that light,” Fiedler added. “As community members that care. That’s how we can make a difference every day.”
The mystery theater event was done with The Murder Mystery Co. out of Chicago, with the group doing a diamond heist instead of a murder. There were also silent auctions, plus the “Diamond Ice Queen” – Fiedler’s mother walking around with mystery gift card envelopes that could be purchased for $20 each (with a minimum $20 gift card inside).
That wasn’t the only news of the evening. As things were winding down, Fiedler said a shelter for survivors was in the works.
Finding a way forward, in spite of a loss of faith
Camp seemed to hit almost every emotion possible during her speech. She took the time to share details of her childhood, which included abuse by both parents and eventually her stepmother and stepbrother.
“My early life was full of violence,” she explained. Her brothers had to stop her mother from beating her once, and those same siblings stood up against her father.
Camp explained that she turned to alcohol and drugs to numb herself against the constant pain, not understanding that what she was experiencing wasn’t normal family life. Her grandmother paid for her to attend a private Christian school through ninth grade, though, and Camp said, “I loved Jesus with all my heart.”
The details in Camp’s story were intense – and heartbreaking. She danced to earn money, admitted she let any man who showed affection have access to her, and lost one of her children to SIDS when he was 9 months old.
At that point, she admitted, she no longer trusted God.
“I prayed to God and asked him to let me die,” she said, admitting she did everything possible to not live.
After her grandmother died, Camp eventually decided to move to Oregon in an attempt to outrun her problems.
“And guess who I took with me?” she asked. “Me.”
Problems continued. She found herself on the bottom rung of a ladder of a woman who pimped her out as a prostitute, and continued to find herself in abusive relationships.
“For taking back my power, my life was sure out of control,” Camp explained.
She realized she wasn’t changing and moved back to Rockford. The year 2010 was the last day she worked in the sex trade, though it wasn’t the end of her troubles. Camp said she realized that she could trust God to love her and help her fix things.
“I could do a lot of things, but I couldn’t stay sober on my own,” she said. “I wanted to get better or die.”
Faced with a choice, Camp chose to renew her faith in God. She is now an ordained minister, and feels she’s learned some important truths. She said the biggest problem with her thinking was the warped idea that she was never good enough or clean enough.
“God knows I’m not perfect, and he loves me anyway,” she said, receiving a standing ovation from the audience. “I’m embracing God’s purpose for me fully, and I’m not letting go.”
“God wins. Love wins,” she added, saying that her three other children have thrived against all odds. “I love the woman I am today.”